Posts Tagged work

A happy life … One daydream away

Here’s a late-breaking addition to the list of things that are different as an adult: daydreaming.

It just isn’t the same. Without classes to space out in and without assigned reading to have open while falling deep into thought, daydreaming feels different. It’s not any less satisfying, but it’s certainly less common. I’ve realized, I miss it.

As a teen, I’d daydream about getting asked to the homecoming dance or getting to wear a football player’s jersey to school on game day as his girlfriend. (Such meaningless, stupid desires to aim for, I know now, but they were on my high school mind nonetheless.) In college, I’d daydream about getting an internship with the Chicago Tribune or having a fairy-tale romantic ending to what was best left as a great friendship. I’d daydream to relieve the stress of desiring it all — my dream job, the ability to write for pay, the continued closeness of family and friends, and love, a relationship to bring it all together — but having none of it at the moment. Daydreaming was an escape.

It still can be, but I find myself using it as a strategy less and less often. When I space out during boring budget meetings I’m covering for work, my daydreams are far more shortsighted. Usually I’m just pining for sleep or for the dinner I didn’t really get to eat because the meeting started at 6 p.m. and I had to fight the slow annoyance of suburban rush hour traffic to get there on time. Or I’m impatiently waiting for the next weekend, can it please mercifully come! My daydreams have shrunk in imagination, and at the same time, in relief. Whoops.

Maybe this means I’m a little more present in the world at the moment. Maybe it means I’m closer to “having it all” than I was in high school or college, so my brain can live in the now without having to look forward to having things like a hard-fought career and a wonderful relationship of teamwork. Maybe.

But maybe it also means I’m not thinking far enough in advance. That I’m not dreaming big enough. That I should be expecting more from myself now that I have earned the securities I have in my job and my life. I guess I just need practice. Daydreaming practice.

It’s easy to let daydreaming fall by the wayside when the constant nature of adulthood weighs you down. Each day you have to wake up, work out (if you’re active, which is a good thing), prepare food, commute, work, prepare more food, try to do something more productive than just watch TV and go to sleep with enough time to generate enough energy to do it all over again. It’s exhausting.

But it’s life. It’s our gift. And we can see it that way if we just allow our minds to expand on it and take us elsewhere in a nice daydream every once in a while. Starting now.


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An open letter to people- and pet-loving drivers

Do you really think people need a reminder? Yeah, you’re right. They do.

I’m picturing a dog vs cat battle for affection at your house. Or in your passenger seat.

Dear RKNRL 56,
’56 is a ways back now, even in the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame …

You even have a personalized license plate, and it’s still just NEVER ENOUGH for you!

Dear PDF IT,
Ooh! I know, you made your fortune creating that program that turns any file into a pdf attachment.

Just keep going north and stop when the ground turns white.

Who doesn’t love cow moovies?

Dear BIGUY5,
There are two readings here, but I’ll stick with you’re a big guy.

Dear IB NIU 86,
Is your name on a building at NIU? With that kind of devotion, I’d guess you’re a big donor in DeKalb.

Dear REC CRE8,
Well you sure are one creative recreation professional. No one believe you?!? Just show ‘em your ride!


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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, V is for Volunteering

Every time I hear an organization call for volunteers, or every time I hear a story of some great work volunteers did, I think “I should do that.”

“Yeah,” I tell myself, “I really should start volunteering, start giving back.” It’s the right thing to do. I mean, plenty of people helped me become the at least moderately successful 20-something journalist I am today, so I should provide similar help for the younger generation.

I should volunteer in a way that makes the “highest and best use” of my talents as a writer, my endurance as an athlete and my feminist belief in equal opportunity and treatment for all, regardless of any factor, especially gender. I should do my best work at my job, be the best version of myself to my friends, siblings, parents, cousins, etc, and then, I should top it all off by volunteering for causes close to my heart.

We all should.

Lots of us do, and even more of us try. But for me, so far, no matter how much I might want to begin volunteering consistently, it just doesn’t happen. I’ll start off with the best intentions, and then life gets in the way.

I’ll decide I should volunteer with the Illinois Prairie Path because it’s one of my favorite places to run, it’s the first successful rails-to-trails conversion in the U.S., and heck, it attracts just as much garbage and weeds as any other outdoor space. So I’ll get my mind set on volunteering to keep the path clean and pristine for all the runners, bikers and walkers who find comfort in its suburban seclusion. Then life gets in the way.

I move to Chicago instead of the suburbs, and realize I won’t be very close to the path during the majority of my free time. I look at the website and see there aren’t really any volunteer events, or anything listed for volunteers other than a yearly “members meeting” in which you basically pay $25 to hear a status update about the path. Not really my idea of doing good in the world, or “giving back.”

In college, I tried to be a volunteer soccer coach for the nearby park district. My cousin had coached a little kids’ baseball team at a housing project during his college years, so I thought the idea of giving back by helping youths develop soccer skills and a love for running around was a great one. In a way, it was.

But then I learned more about the program. The practices were at faraway fields not easily accessible by bus or any other mode of transportation available to the car-less me. The games conflicted with the times of Illini football games, to which I’d already bought season tickets. And I don’t even remember now for sure, but there were probably all kinds of background checks and hoops the park district would have made me jump through before letting scary, intimidating me coach any little tykes.

Other volunteer efforts I’ve tried have been thwarted by more simple factors like a lack of time, an awkward uneasiness about dropping in somewhere once to “help out” never to be seen again, or a gnawing feeling that anyone with any skills could help out at a food pantry or a homeless shelter or an elderly meal delivery service, so maybe I should be serving elsewhere.

All this isn’t to say I haven’t given a second of my time to others. I helped with one of those used prom dress giveaways during college, and I prepared food for a soup kitchen once. I participated in one of those group volunteer events, where I basically scarfed down free bagels and did some light cleaning at a church that didn’t seem to know what projects could actually use volunteer help. I donated blood, but it took forever, bruised my veins and made me dizzy. In my most fulfilling volunteer effort so far, I’ve went back to my high school and to a middle school near my office to speak about my job as a newspaper reporter and give advice on how to break into journalism.

Still, I seem to be finding all the bad aspects of an activity as great as volunteering, and that’s totally not my style. So here’s the part where I begin to discover I’m on to something. All I really need to do is find the right cause, the right volunteer group, the right organization. I’m leaning toward some type of mentorship group, and/or Girls on the Run Chicago, or anything else I find that would let me do something uniquely worthwhile using the writing, speaking, running and feministing skills I’ve built through my education and life experiences.

It seems I want to volunteer for the right reasons – because I believe it’s important to pave the way for girls and aspiring writers or anyone who may be struggling with obstacles to success. And it seems all my strikeouts are leading to something – I don’t want to volunteer with some run-of-the-mill food pantry, even though those are necessary and really help people who otherwise might go hungry.

When it comes to volunteering, I don’t really think mine is the lead to follow. But I do know that in our 20s, we’re old enough to begin seeing the world outside ourselves. We’re old enough to give this “giving back” thing a real shot. So when we try to volunteer, we should strive to serve the right cause – one that fits our life experiences and interests – for the right reasons. Then, we’ll really begin to make the world a better place.

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Why it’s exciting to actually have TV (and money)

I’m sitting in front of the TV writing this now. I couldn’t have said that a month ago. And I’m kind of excited about it. Yes, it’s 2015 and I just said I’m excited about TV. If it was 1965, maybe that’d be acceptable, but now? Not so much. Still, there’s a reason I think it’s OK: because it’s a sign.

It’s a sign of a new level of economic status I’ve now reached as a twenty-something, and it’s refreshing. I can actually afford TV. TV with HD and a DVR. (Hello, recording Bulls games when I’m at night meetings! Hello recording silly things just to watch when it’s rainy or for some reason there’s nothing else to do!). I can afford TV with music channels and a YouTube app to watch workout videos and on-demand to watch movies and stuff. TV with so many bells and whistles I won’t even use them all, I’m sure of that. But I can afford it. Lucky me.

At 27 and three years into living on my own (aka not with my parents), it feels gratifying to be able to afford a last luxury-type thing that I previously thought was out of my range. TV service was really the last holdout, the last thing about which I could be accused of being a major cheapskate (other than small stuff like swiping extra napkins from Panera and Starbucks or reusing plastic snack bags because, c’mon, you obviously can put trail mix in the same bag twice).

It wasn’t so much that I literally couldn’t scrape together the money to pay for TV service, it was that it didn’t feel like the smart thing to do, and TV was something on which I was willing to skimp until I felt more comfortable with my money for the long term. We can’t expect to set ourselves up well for the future if we don’t make smart decisions now, so for a while, TV was out.

TV was my last cheapskate item, but maybe yours is a vacation a plane flight away instead of within a reasonable driving distance, or a vacation at a real hotel with a fantastic hot breakfast buffet instead of at a motel with a cracked mirror and questionable carpet. Maybe your last withheld luxury is going to pro sports games with friends instead of backing out half of the time, or having the free cash to sign up to run races, obstacle courses or triathlons.

So when you get that next raise or you make that last student loan payment and you realize, “Hey, I actually have money!” it’s going to be a good feeling – a good but subdued feeling. You won’t want to jump for joy. It might not even hit you right away. But eventually you’ll notice a few extra dollars in your checking account. You’ll wonder how it ended up there and what you should do with it. You’ll gain a new level of thankfulness for everything that’s allowed you to have this money – the blessings you can’t even count, your hard work, your parents’ support, your steady job, your education, your socioeconomic class, your parents’ support (so important it’s worth mentioning twice), your privileges and advantages everything that makes you you.

Maybe you’ll donate a few bucks. Or save a few bucks. Or decide to run the air conditioning more often, to move to a bigger apartment or splurge on expensive groceries from time to time.

Or if you’re like me, you’ll rejoin the world of 2015 and rejoice in some glorious TV. So for now, it’s back to the screen and a multitude of viewing choices.

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The trick of time and the post-college life

I’m standing near a drive-through at a suburban Dunkin’ Donuts chatting with a couple of cops. They assure me they’ve had their doughnuts for the day, but they’re actually here to collect donations for Special Olympics Illinois. It’s the annual Cop on a Rooftop day and I’m covering it for work.

So the cops and I are bantering and I’m writing stuff down. On a tangent unrelated to my story, one of them tells me why so many cops frequent this particular Dunkin’ Donuts location. Another cop tells me, more on-topic, thankfully, that he went to the start of the Special Olympics summer games last year and it was a really moving experience.

Then the first cop, the off-topic guy, asks how old I am. He’s not being creepy, just curious, so I smile and answer. He seems surprised to hear I’ve been out of college for five years. He tells me he wondered if I was an intern – 21 or 22 – because I seemed focused and good at what I was doing, but still looked young.

I smiled some more. I just got asked the “are you an intern?” question and it wasn’t an insult to my working abilities, it was a compliment! And it actually felt that way!

At the back of my mind, a little part of me had been waiting for this moment. The moment when being asked, at strange times throughout the summer, if I’m an intern would actually feel good. The moment when I would be glad to look a handful of years younger than my true age instead of feeling worried about my lack of professional experience.

I guess it takes five years. I guess it takes being out of college longer than I was ever in it. Wait … what?!? I’ve been out of college longer than I was in it? It just hit me. And it’s scary.

This is a strange and remarkable moment because it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. The four-year time periods of college and high school feel like entire eras in our lives. They have entrance and exit rituals, freshman orientation days and graduations. They come with their own sets of activities and stresses and growing responsibilities and entirely new circles of friends. It’s like a package deal.

But twenty-something life, while somewhat of an era in itself, doesn’t necessarily have entrance and exit rituals … other than, possibly, the 30th birthday. More importantly, it doesn’t come with easy access to new activities or built-in challenges to overcome or easy-to-find groups of friends. It doesn’t come with an instruction manual, a set goal of a new phase to enter once it’s over. It’s up to us to decide where we’d like to be by 30 and pursue our goals so we can get there. We won’t have the same tests to take or stresses to endure as the next guy or gal, and we won’t have a guidance counselor to show us the way. We’ll encounter trials of sorts and our lives will be more stable if we find mentors and guides, but again, it’s up to us.

Since this twenty-something phase of life is so different, and so much more free – in a great and overwhelming way – it’s hard to believe I’ve been living it for longer than I ever was in college.

I squeezed all I could out of those four marvelous years, and now I’m doing my best to get all I can out of every year thereafter. But to realize my post-college life is already longer than my collegiate experience really puts the fleeting nature of time into perspective.

It’s an altogether strange thought and it calls for more reflection. But at least it’s allowing me to be pleasantly surprised when I’m thought to be an intern. And I don’t even have to get anyone else’s coffee!

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Staycation, relaxation, adulthood nation!

When a staycation begins to sound just as awesome as a real vacation, you know you’ve officially reached adulthood.

When a four-day weekend sounds like the best birthday present you could ever receive, you know you’re no longer a kid.

And when your staycation involves doing laundry, cleaning, donating old clothes, organizing a year’s worth of photos, going to the gym in the middle of the day, buying some new music, trying a new recipe and staying in most nights, it’s time for a reality check – you’re probably approaching 30.

Our enjoyment of things like relaxing, staying in and being able to leisurely accomplish errands and chores increases with each passing month we spend in the career world because we realize there’s not enough time for those things when we’re constantly working.

When we’re in the thick of the work week, something that otherwise should be fun – like trying a new recipe or getting in a solid workout at the gym – now seems like just another thing on the to-do list, something that must be checked off before we’ve earned another night of sleep. Instead of culinary adventurousness or a heart-pounding interval run, all we want is something premade and microwaveable after 20 minutes of lazy cycling on the stationary bike.

If I had to blame this on one factor alone, I’d go with lack of energy; a simple lack of energy. Being tired makes everything seem worse, and by now, us twenty-somethings know work is tiring. We know tired wins, and fun loses. We haven’t found a way around it. Unless it’s staycation time. Then, energy is ours!

Being on a staycation gives us time to sleep in (yay!), move around slowly, think more clearly or at least a little differently and accomplish a number of ordinary, yet awesome, tasks. Our laundry gets done – maybe even the sheets and towels and that dirty oven mitt that’s so easy to forget. Our apartments get cleaned – and not just a quick once-over of the kitchen floors and counters and the bathroom sink, but a complete cleansing that takes more than an hour and leaves everything a lot less dusty. We reconnect with neglected passions like listening to new music or taking a trip down lyrical memory lane. We might even reconnect with seemingly long-lost people like our college roommates and those few loyal high school best friends.

When we’re on a staycation, the ordinary can become extraordinary. And admitting that means we’re far along the path to true adulthood. Ponder that during your next long weekend!

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You know you’ve reached adulthood when … you think about dinner at lunchtime

It’s only half past a freckle past breakfast time and I’m already thinking about lunch. What should I pack? Do I have everything I need to make a good sandwich? Or maybe a salad. What fruit do I have left? Are my Tupperwares clean? Do I have enough Ziploc bags? Is it all going to fit in my lunch bag? And what should I eat tomorrow?

Ahh, when it comes to food, it’s always something. One day you’ve got to make a fruit salad because your bananas are brown and spotty and your strawberries seem on their last legs. The next day, you’ve got to run to the store because you’re completely out of bread. And orange juice. And apples. You get the picture …

As a kid, I used to razz my mom for starting to make dinner shortly after us little tykes had finished lunch. We were one of those families who ate dinner at 5 p.m. on the dot, because that’s when my dad would get home from the office. So my mom, being someone who enjoys cooking and making healthy and tasty recipes, always plans ahead. She thinks ahead and starts ahead to give a nice dinner the time it needs to come together.

It seemed silly to younger me that meat for beef stew or sauce for spaghetti had to start cooking around 1 or 2 p.m., but I’ve now heard of the “low and slow” technique for making meat tender. And now I’ve handled the responsibility of cooking for myself for long enough to realize how much thought goes into a meal.

Even when a “meal” consists of a kitchen sink-type salad with lettuce, lunch meat, nuts, craisins and whatever vegetables are left in the fridge, some thought and advanced planning is usually involved. I have to weigh the benefits of eating most of my vegetables in one fell swoop versus the risk of running out of carrots for my lunches before I have time to go to the store. (And it’s a sad, sad day when this reporter makes a lunch without carrots …)

It seems miniscule, but there’s always some such consideration in the battle to buy the right amount of food, make it last until I have time to pick up more and not let anything go to waste. So now, I often find myself planning a meal or two or a day or three ahead – just as Mom always has.

I can laugh at her no longer for putting dinner on the stove while still snacking on the last few bites of lunch – not when I’m apt to cook four servings of something like chicken with zucchini and orzo on a Sunday and freeze all of them for later. I can snicker behind her back no longer for letting ribs cook for four hours when I’ve learned the best way not to burn chicken is to cook it for a full hour regardless of how hungry you are and how much you just want it to be ready NOW.

I love food, but all this cooking and buying and storing and trying not to waste it has got the noms constantly on my mind. Visions of sugarplums can be fun, but visions of vegetables … not so much.

I guess all I can do is keep cooking my leftovers and planning a couple of meals ahead, while trying my best to enjoy the one I’m actually eating. It’s another case where Mom knows best, but finding that out sure makes me feel old.

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